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Fluctuating Chlorine Leads to Problem; Water Quality Safe
(Released: 11/16/01)

By Karen Grava, Office of University Communications

STORRS, Conn. -- Recent tests of water samples from the UConn main campus water distribution system routinely performed by the University's Department of Environmental Health and Safety and analyzed by the Connecticut Department of Public Health indicated the intermittent presence of total coliform bacteria during the month of October.

While the DPH determined that the University's water was safe during these occurrences and remains safe, federal and state law requires that the University notify its users of the findings, even though subsequent tests taken last week showed no evidence of total coliform.

The Depot Campus water system did not have any coliform bacteria problems.

The detection of intermittent total coliform bacteria can indicate a problem with the water distribution system and in this case is due to fluctuating chlorine dosages from newly installed equipment, said Frank Labato, director of environmental health and safety.

"As a result of the October tests, we are working closely with the state Department of Public Health to more closely monitor our chlorination equipment. We will continue to monitor the water quality throughout the system to ensure that it remains safe for drinking."

As part of its regular testing of UConn's water supply, the Department of Public Health last month detected the presence of total coliform bacteria in three of 24 samples collected on Oct. 10 and Oct. 24. The number of tests is determined by the population served by the water distribution system; and the location where the tests are taken is determined by the Department of Public Health. Retests conducted on Oct. 11 and Oct. 26 indicated no total coliform bacteria.

Total coliform is a common bacteria that can appear randomly in both public and private water supply systems. Although it is not considered a health risk, the state Department of Public Health requires water providers to notify their users any time water tests in systems the size of UConn's indicate the presence of coliform more than twice in a month.

Labato noted that it was total coliform bacteria only that was found and not other bacteria that present health risks, such as E.coli or fecal coliform bacteria. Neither of these bacteria has been detected in the University's water distribution system and therefore the Department of Public Health has not placed any restrictions or special requirements or preconditions, such as boiling, on its use. The water has been and remains safe for drinking.

He said the University will continue to monitor water quality and conduct routine water tests as required by the Department of Public Health.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets drinking water standards and has determined that the presence of total coliforms is a possible health concern. Total coliforms are common in the environment and are generally not harmful themselves.

The presence of these bacteria in drinking water, however, generally is a result of a problem with the water treatment or the pipes which distribute the water, and indicates that the water may be contaminated with organisms that can cause disease. Disease symptoms may include diarrhea, cramps, nausea and possibly jaundice and any associated headaches and fatigue. These symptoms, however, are not just associated with disease-causing organisms in drinking water, but also may be caused by a number of factors other than drinking water.

EPA has set an enforceable drinking water standard for total coliforms to reduce the risk of these adverse health effects. Drinking water which meets this standard is usually not associated with a health risk from disease-causing bacteria and should be considered safe.

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